10/4/06 My P5/P6 classes today were horrendous to the sub, as I took off some time for some training with a consultant. Besides the sub, there were three other adults in the room that day, and they impressed on me the need to fix things in this class. However, for a brief period, under the direction of the consultant, I saw these difficult kids actually working on math together. Central to her technique is to break the lesson into small pieces and to display the duration of the pieces in an agenda on the board, checking off each piece as it is completed.
10/5/06 Read the riot act today to all classes, including display of “Inappropriate Behavior” page from Binder Reminder. My best-behaved classes shaped up, but my after-lunch period eventually lost it. This was partly my fault since I gave them a small-group activity during their most challenging time. I wanted to have some kind of non-punitive activity for the kids, who are also with me just before lunch. I took the advice of a part-time administrator on campus, and put the repeat offenders in a Chair of Honor, rather than make their days and evict them from the classroom. The chair was pointed directly toward my whiteboard, leaving the victim’s back pointed toward the audience. (I made sure the student was not turned in his or her seat.) This quieted the student in question, but it did not feel like a particularly humane way of dealing with the situation.
10/6/06 Taught a half-baked intro algebra lesson using a balance, plus algebra tiles. The point was to model equations. It was the last period of the week in my most difficult class. Kids were happy to volunteer, and to talk when I told them to discuss, but they didn’t actually do much thinking, and the wild kids kept the whole class from getting anything done. My mistakes: omitting an agenda and not writing clear instructions. The principal and assistant principal popped in in the first ten minutes, saw the class at their best (making me a liar), and split after about 20 seconds.
10/8/06 Returned tests from last week and gave students the option of re-doing five problems to replace wrong answers with correct answers. This turned out to be a major mistake. Even though I gave them exactly five minutes to complete the work, it stretched out to ten minutes most periods as students started asking questions, talking to each other even though I said to work alone, pointing out that they haven’t take the test at all, etc. What a mess. The option for bumping your score was suggested to me by another teacher, but I’m sure I missed a detail. You should only do this outside of class time. Students who are serious about earning more points will be willing to come in before class one day.
10/9/06 Tried to use the balance model in a lesson intended to precede the unit on solving linear equations. The balance fell over (breaking the fulcrum), and the volunteers who were supposed to add things to the balance were uninterested and distracted and only wanted to volunteer so they could stand up. The “x” was a simple folded piece of paper, which I described as an “envelope”; however, the students never saw it as an envelope (which meant the metaphor was defective and not completely useful). Some students understood the concept of “x” but some couldn’t be bothered. I have trouble reaching them other than with a plain lecture about simple procedures (solving one-step equations using addition or subtraction) or with sermons about talking during lectures.
10/10/06 Taught a lesson on solving linear equations using subtraction, this time with see-saws rather than balances. (I resist the see-saw model, vs. balance, since there’s an additional variable of distance from the fulcrum, but I guess the average 13-year-old misses that subtlety.) The students moved into pairs and drew the see-saws on “white boards” (made out of page protectors containing card stock), and displayed their work – including equations and drawings – on their boards. They were totally engaged, for a few minutes. Eventually they lost interest, started chattering and wouldn’t stop, and so I had them put their desks back in rows, and we picked up again with a lecture (and a sermon).
10/16/06 Homework rate for P1/2 was a dismal 50%. Reminds me of high-school. I’m partially responsible for the low turnout because I didn’t practice enough examples during Friday’s lesson and because I assigned a few problems requiring skills slightly beyond where we are. I say “partially” because the students still are required to do their assigned work. In any case, I will now need to come up with some kind of “tough love” policy on homework. I’ve heard of middle-school teachers who have been successful with notes home or not allowing the students take tests unless they turn in the homework. This seems extreme, but it makes sense, since I claim and believe that few of these students (Foundations of Algebra, with a second “Support” period each day) can have any success on tests without regular practice.
10/16/06 Despite ongoing frustration with behavior in P5/6 – I sent two outside, and assigned notes to be signed to four others – a few of the seeming knuckleheads who will never learn anything except how to get Juvenile Hall were actually trying. One of them, a guy who shouts at me if I correct his behavior the wrong way, actually said, “Could you put up a few more so we could practice them?” (He was asking for single-step equations with division.) I couldn’t get him to see the simplicity and universal truth of the “undo the operation to isolate the variable” approach, but he was happy to memorize the steps I was teaching. Unfortunately, we needed to get on to the day’s lesson (multiplying by the reciprocal if the coefficient is a fraction), and he got a little short-changed. I’m going to try to catch up with him tomorrow.
10/16/06 In one period today, at least ¼ of the class didn’t have their homework because they forgot it at home, in their textbooks. “What can you do next time, class, to remember your homework? That’s right: when you finish it, get up and walk all the way across the room and put it in your backpack!” One guy never has a backpack and so is constantly in fear of having his things “jacked” from his binder. I’ve asked him why he has no backpack; his answers seem to be circling around some sort of family-deficiency thing that I’d rather not force him to reveal.
I’m now displaying just the even-numbered answers, as the students grade their own homework, because the odd-numbered answers are in the back of their books. I’ve explained how to do the work – do each problem, check the answer in the book, make corrections – but they are either too lazy to look or have some lingering antipathy toward “cheating” and so won’t check.